Italy in Nine Parts: Arrival

With helpful hints, reviews, and recommendations


I recently set off on a tour of adjacent regions in Italy, one as famous as any, the other living in its neighbor’s shadow.  Tuscany captures the imagination of many, and with good reason. The riches of Siena, Florence, the hill towns and famous vineyards spanning Montalcino, Montepulciano, and Chianti have had a tremendous impact on history.

Moving just a few kilometers to the east one finds oneself in the province of Umbria. Long passed over as a tourist destination, and with a much smaller wine industry, Umbria is only now appearing on the radar of the average tourist. With far lighter crowds and an appealingly intense character to the people, cuisine and wines, now is the time to begin to include Umbria in your travels plans.

I was only in Italy for just over a week but I documented my every move, so that I can share with you some tips on great places to visit. I’ll not only be featuring wineries, but also hotels, restaurants, and sights to see.  So let’s kick off this nine part series and see where it takes us!

Travel Tip Number 1 – Driving

With fewer flights to Europe these days, your options for a direct flight to Italy are ever more limited. For access to Tuscany, Rome is the most convenient. If you plan to spend a few days in Rome take the train from the airport. The station is in the terminal and will save you from some serious culture shock: The Tangenziale! This ring road that loops around the city of Rome is as chaotic a scene as one can imagine, except during rush hour when it’s barely moving. Unfortunately, it’s the only direct route to the A1 Autostrada that connects Rome with points north and south. If you’re heading to Tuscany, do yourself a favor and ease into Italian life by taking the A12 coastal road.  You can connect to the A1 via Viterbo, or just take it easy and cruise up to the Maremma at a leisurely pace, and probably in time for lunch.
With only a few days in Italy, I really needed to ration my time. Tuscany was getting half of my visit, but with so much ground to cover I had to make a decision: spend less time in each of the three principal wine producing zones or leave one for the next visit. I choose the latter. I was able to include a quick visit to Montalcino, home of the world famous Brunello Di Montalcino, but only enough time for a bit of sightseeing and lunch.

First stop: Montalcino

Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino
Once you enter the town of Montalcino there is no doubting what drives the economy here. Enoteca (wine shop) abuts enoteca, and the words Brunello and vino are plastered along every commercial corridor. But wine is not all there is to see in this quaint, well-preserved, and well-travelled Tuscan town.

Visiting Montalcino?
The Osteria di Porta al Cassero presents a rather unassuming façade to the world, giving a deceptive appearance of calm from the street. Once inside this narrow space however, there is a comforting buzz of friendly Italian flying about the place. The clientele here seems to be a fairly even split of tourist and locals, always a promising sign.

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  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,989

    Nice start in Tuscany, Greg, and am particularly looking forward to your tips on Umbria. Good call on pulling that area in....

    Dec 01, 2009 at 2:26 PM

  • Snooth User: CFB
    223832 1

    Had a villa in Umbria four years ago - food and wine wonderful - not too many tourists - rated by the family as the best vacation ever.

    Dec 01, 2009 at 4:41 PM

  • Snooth User: bropaul
    268864 117

    I began my romance with Umbria more than 25 years ago when I went to study Italian in Perugia for a month. I have returned frequently since, but my most memorable trip was a 2-week cooking course in Terni that included all kinds of food and wine experiences. I'm looking forward to the series.

    Dec 01, 2009 at 5:35 PM

  • Amico, in Umbria you MUST go to Montefalco and savor all the 2004/05 Sagrantinos you can get your hands on. Either spend the rest of your week right there, or pack a mixed case of Sagrantino to Orvieto, and hang out there. Do not neglect spending an evening at "The Champagneria" in Orvieto, and when you do give my love (and that of my wife Marcia Vanderlip) to Velia de Angelis and her partner Gianluca Antoniella. You'll be very glad you did. I mean it buster; don't squander your time squatting in Montalcino.

    Dec 01, 2009 at 6:07 PM

  • Snooth User: ATootsie
    38376 70

    I highly recommend a small Winery called Casale Triocco in Umbria. their 2003 Sagrantino di Montefalco, DOCG was rated 93 PTS Wine Spectator. Very available here in Ohio

    Dec 01, 2009 at 6:41 PM

  • Snooth User: keljam
    315733 1

    During a recent visit I found the people very friendly from wine makers to vinyard workers.
    Did not find the great local restaurant I was hoping for in town any recommendations for a future trip

    Dec 01, 2009 at 7:40 PM

  • Which town?

    Dec 01, 2009 at 7:52 PM

  • Snooth User: RLC
    133623 4

    Just got back frm San Gemini, Umbria just a few km north of Terni. The town, food and wine were unbelievable as was the espresso and fresh pastries every morning. San Gemini is a medieval town populated after the fall of Carsuale, the roman ruins a few km north. From San Gemini you can visit Orveito, Terni, Spoleto and never get or see enough. And San Gemini is known for it's mineral waters. The local wine Montepulcano Rosso is to die for and cheaper than bottled water. As in all small Italian villages/towns, go for the local table vino, Vino Da Tavola...never a bad bet.

    Dec 01, 2009 at 8:08 PM

  • Snooth User: blkahn
    111514 1

    During our last visit to Montalcino we were too late to lunch at Grotto Azul (Blue Grotto) and were truly bummed out. We had found it on a prior trip by following my nose down a side street. We were the only Americans there and everyone, and everything was amazing. We'll be back next summer and be sure to get there early enough for a leisurely lunch. Unbeatable. Ciao!

    Dec 01, 2009 at 9:10 PM

  • Snooth User: amour
    Hand of Snooth
    218530 2,203

    I AM amour on SNOOTH.
    My interest in TUSCANY commenced with my friend NIGEL FOXELL, an ENGLISHMAN, author and
    then the JULES VERNE rep for TUSCANY: he specialised in tours from LONDON into TUSCANY.
    We did everything! And I went often though not a fan of ITALIAN GASTRONOMY. (I make no excuses, I am truly FRENCH GASTRONOMY ITSELF! But I loved SIENA and Lucca and climbing those hills, and of course rounding it all off with MASSETO.
    Prior to that I observed the development of ITALIAN WINEMAKING FROM THE EARLY 1970's and they have really progressed. EXPERIMENTATION of the 1980's paid off in those SUPER TUSCANS which are sometimes too muscular for me!
    However, I discovered 1982 AVIGNONESI GRIFFI and really enjoyed it , as well as VIN SANTO and GRAPPA...dessert wines.Did you have any of those?
    TENUTA dell' ORNELLAIA makes two great SUPER TUSCANS the ORNELLAIA and the MASSETO just mentioned.

    Dec 03, 2009 at 8:20 AM

  • Snooth User: Scullum
    321141 1

    Podere Capaccia is a great vineyard just outside Radda. Great Chianti Classico and Super Tuscan. Fantastic positon. See

    Dec 08, 2009 at 12:17 PM

  • Snooth User: ramblero
    263324 23

    To blkahn, yes, The Blue Grotto * was * wonderful; my wife found it while we were on our way from Siena to Montepulciano, via Montelcino. Hope to get back again some day.

    Dec 08, 2009 at 4:58 PM

  • Snooth User: slrudolph
    224260 2

    In Montepulciano, don't miss Trattoria Diva e Maceo, just inside the gate. Truely representative of the local cuisine; I eat there two meals a day when I'm in country. And Maceo, who is trained, has an EXCELLENT list of Vino Nobile (plus, ahem, some rosso he has bottled for himself).

    Dec 10, 2009 at 2:46 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Thanks everyone for the kind words. I'm half way through my series, and ready to report on the wines of Montepulciano. Hope you like the upcoming chapters.

    Dec 11, 2009 at 11:24 AM

  • Snooth User: madmanny
    106551 156

    Great Stuff Greg - you've got to take us all with you on your next adventure.
    Regarding driving tips in Italy, I have three more.
    1) Get a GPS
    2) If you don't have a GPS, see which towns you will be going through to get to your destination and then look for those town names when you pass through the roundabouts.

    Dec 15, 2009 at 12:52 PM

  • My gran'ma was born in Montepulciano, where I have two cousins. I know very well wine (and food, of course!) of that country, tell me when you'll came back there.

    Dec 17, 2009 at 6:35 PM

  • Snooth User: cigarman168
    Hand of Snooth
    227923 333

    Lots of Italian wines fans there, Snooth comes out as a must read web for Italian Wines for me.

    Dec 17, 2009 at 11:00 PM

  • We just returned from Italy in October. Mostly Tuscany - the Maremma. If any of you get to Orvieto in Umbria you must visit Tenuta le Vellette - a multi generational family owned winery that makes the best Orvieto Classico. The setting is fantastic - with beautiful views of Orvieto and the people are very gracious.

    Jan 01, 2010 at 3:09 PM

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